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Top 10 Tips for Seeding a Lawn

June 30, 2014

Wait, why would you seed when you can have an insta-lawn with sod?

I asked myself this question when we needed to replace the backyard at our first property. Seeding just seemed like way too much work, and the results seemed like they would take forever. Based on these misconceptions we used sod for that property, and lucky for us we had great results. When we needed to replace the lawn at our second property (why are we always buying houses with shitty grass? haha) we went with sod right away. It worked for us before so I wrongly assumed we would have the same success. WRONG-O. The sod looked great the first year, but the second year only 1/2 of it came back and it was patchy and thin. We had to stat over and re-seed the yard.

What went wrong with the sod at the second property?

A few things: the soil was not amended or loosened properly, we didn’t fertilize like we were supposed to, and most of all it wasn’t the right type of grass for our property.

What have I learned?

It’s not as easy as rolling out sod on some dirt and letting it grow. The type of grass (sod) will determine if it can grow and come back year and year with the amount of light, drainage, and soil you have in your yard. At the first property, the sod was a special blend of grasses that worked ideally in our area and with our lighting. At the second property, the sod was right for the climate but not the shade our mature trees threw, and was not ideal for the soggy soil that can bring on common lawn diseases.

Third times a charm

So now – with our third attempt – we decided to seed and we are really pleased with the results. We will have a lush lawn that will thrive year after year. Below are the top 10 tips I learned along the way.

1. Pick the right season

Right now – July in the Midwest – is not the right time to grow grass from seed. It’s too hot. It’s very easy for the grass seed to dry out because temperatures are regularly in the 80s. You could certainly try to seed a new lawn now, and you might have some success, but the best time of the year to seed is autumn or spring when the temperatures are cooler and it’s rainy.

2. Loosen the soil

This is soooo important. So often I’m walking the dog and see that a neighbor has just tossed a handful of grass seed on a bare patch in the lawn. People – this doesn’t work. Those little baby grass seeds need loose soil to put down roots. They can’t penetrate packed down soil, and will wash away the next time it rains.

The soil needs to be loosed up at least 1-2 inches if you are over-seeding a lawn that is thin. We use this cool looking tool if we are just loosening up the top inch or so. It’s easiest when the soil is damp.

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If you’re starting from scratch, with bare earth, take advantage and loosen the soil 7-8 inches deep. We used a roto-tiller over the whole lawn and churned that soil up! By breaking up the hard earth you provide 7-8 inches of depth for the new grass roots. It improve drainage and give you an opportunity to add soil amendments and work them in nice and deep.

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3. Amend the soil

This step isn’t necessary, but it does impact the rate of seed germination, how robust the new grass will be when it does sprout, and improve your drainage. The type of amendments you need depend on what you start with. We have heavy clay soil so we added lots of peat moss and compost for drainage. Don’t cheap out on these products either. Cheap compost can be full of weed seeds which is just no good, because you can’t put down any weed killer for at least 8 weeks. Cheap peat moss can hold too much moisture and not provide the drainage you desire. If you have sandy soil, you may want to add clay and compost. To test your soil dig a hole 8 inches deep and take a look at what you dig up. If you squeeze a handful of dirt, does it hold it’s shape like a snowball when you let go, or does it easily fall apart? Humus rich well-drained soil will fall apart easily. Heavy clay soil will hold it’s shape. Sandy soil will not hold any shape.

After you have roto-tilled the soil, rake the amendments evenly over the area to form an even layer, and then take a second pass with the roto-tiller to work them in. We found the two pass system to be much better than trying to work the amendments in and loosening the soil at the same time.

4. Buy the right seed for your needs/ area

If you flip over a bag of seed you will see that  it contains anywhere from 3-8 varieties of seed. Each will have a germination rate listed next to it, and they will be listed in order of proportion. The proportions may be something like 60-20-10-5-5, or 20, 20 ,15, 10, 10, 10, 5, 5, 5.  Make sure to pick a brand that has germination rates in the high 80s and up. The best I can find is normally 85s and 90s. Trial and error has led me to believe that a rye -fescue blend makes a much better lawn in the midwest than the typical Kentucky bluegrass. Most sod farms around here sell Kentucky blue grass (KBG). The problem with KBG is that does not do well in part shade, dense shade areas. When we used KBG sod in the past the areas in the shade would thin out and become patchy. KBG also has a slightly thicker blade. Rye or fescue tend to be thinner blade grasses, and both come in varieties that can handle shade and sun equally. The other issue with sod is that it can be all one type of grass, again all KBG. This sets up up for disaster if your lawn is attacked by a disease, insect, or fungus that a certain variety of grass is more susceptible to. When you choose a mixed blend for your over-seeding/ seeding then you have a higher chance of disease resistance, and can tailor the seed to the light requirements in your yard.

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5. Sow the seed

It’s time to throw down…..some seed. Some people use a spreader to do this. I just use my hands. Grab a handful of seed and toss it on the prepared earth like you’re feeding chickens. Once the area evenly is covered, use a flat metal rake to gently work the seed into the top 1/4 -1/2 inch of soil. The soil should just barely be covering the seed.  Now, this next tip came from my Dad and worked wonders on the lawn this year: cover the newly seeded lawn with a very think 1/4 -inch layer of peat moss.This helps to keep the seed moist between watering, and helps prevent it from washing away. It also stops the area from becoming muddy and adds nutrients to the newly seeded lawn. I noticed that the areas which we covered in peat moss germinated more quickly – most likely because the seed stayed moist and protected from the elements.

6. Fertilize

DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Go buy some fertilizer which is made especially for newly seeded lawns. Fertilize the same day you sow. The fertilizer can be put down before or after you seed, doesn’t matter, just make sure to do it the same day. You need to feed that baby grass you are trying grow. Even if you amended your soil, chances are it’s still lacking nutrients.

14 days after you sow, fertilize again. Yup you heard me, give that newly germinated grass another boost. This helps to make sure that it will continue to grow strong and put down roots, and really gives it the final KA-POW and get you over “Is it growing? Is it dying?” stage.

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7. Constant moisture

In order for the grass seed to germinate it must stay moist, not wet. Drowning the seed in standing pools of water is not what you’re going for. It needs to be watered several inches deep every day until it germinates and then every day/ other day until it’s going strong.  Everything you’ve done so far will help with drainage and moisture retention. This step really depends on your weather. If it’s a rainy/misty spring that is cloudy and humid you will most likely not have to water much. If it’s windy and dry then you may have to water twice a day. Don’t let the ground dry out, and watch the new growth to make sure it doesn’t turn a silvery grey – that means it’s thirsty.

8. Keep off

As tempting as it might be, don’t walk on the lawn until it’s established. I like to say no foot traffic for 2 weeks. After that, light traffic only it you must. It’s better to keep off the lawn until it’s time for the first mowing. Too much traffic can damage the new seedlings, or compact the soil.

9. Mow

Home run! If you’ve made it this far you are almost there.The grass will tell you when it’s time to mow. A good rule of thumb is to wait until the blades start to bend at the top or fall over on themselves. At this point you can begin the regular mowing routine. Make sure your blades are sharp so the mower isn’t tearing the grass. It’s also better to mow before you water so that the mower wheels don’t tear up the lawn and the tender new roots. Mowing in the morning or evening is ideal, when the temperatures are cooler. Cutting grass at the height of the afternoon heat can be tough on the lawn and give it a scorched appearance.

10. Touch Up

We you start from scratch and are seeding a new area (instead of over seeding an existing lawn) you aren’t going to have a 100% filled in lush lawn in 10 days. There will be areas where the seed just didn’t take. They told you this right on the back of the bag. Only 85-90% of it’s going to germinate under super ideal conditions. At the 10-14 day mark you can re-sow the bare areas (throw down some seed and cover with peat. No need to loosen the soil, since you already did that and haven’t been compacting it by walking on it).

Timeline: 

It’s different for each climate and type of grass seed, but this is how it worked for us:

  • 1-2 weeks to germinate

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  • touch up/ re-seed
  • 2-4 weeks to fill in

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  • 1st mowing
  • 6 weeks – gorgeous lush lawn!

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Kitchen Herringbone Marble Backsplash: Installation

June 20, 2014

Kitchen Marble Herringbone Backsplash Part III

Want the whole story? Part I & Part II

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In order to prepare for the installation I put brown paper on the countertops and secured it with painters tape. The floor was draped with plastic, and I set up the tile saw in the garage (quick access through the wonky upside down door in the kitchen).

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Look at that gleaming jewel of a faucet. :) I guess you know which one I picked.

I removed all of the plug/ switch plates, and adjusted the electrical boxes with a screw driver so they protruded from the wall a small distance which was the same thickness as the tile. This way, when the backsplash is installed the boxes will be flush with the installation and the plate covers can be easily put back on.

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  • I used a white, no-sag, modified thin-set specially intended to be used with natural stone. I mixed small batches at a time in one of those cheap 5 gallon buckets they sell at the big box store. It’s almost impossible to mix this type of thin-set without using a drill with a mixing paddle. Also make sure the drill is charged if you are using a cordless because this type of use will drain the battery quickly. A corded drill would be ideal because multiple batches will need to be made, and you don’t want your drill dying on you half way through installation.
  • I also purchased a brand new blade for the tile saw. I had a lot of marble to cut, and natural stone dulls the blade much more quickly that ceramic tile. A dull blade is dangerous to work with and also can result in chipped rough edges. I didn’t want any danger or crappy craftmanship in this project, so I went ahead and purchased a pricey $40 blade.
  • Lastly, I used a 3/16 in v-notched trowel for the installation. The trick is to spread the thin-set on the wall with the flat side first, and then to scrape off the excess with the notched side (trowel set against the wall at a 45 degree angle).

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I would be lying if I said it went up quickly. It took a long time to cut all the small tiles to go around the edges/ perimeter.

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I made sure to open all of the boxes of tile and mix them together so that the color and veining of each sheet looked random and blended seamlessly together. Some of the sheets had really dark brownish tiles, so I cut those out with a utility knife and swapped in a pretty grey or white tile.

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I used the chair rail pieces under the windowsill and the pencil molding to frame out the corners of the tile that didn’t run into a cabinet or the countertop. Nothing fancy here. I did 45° degree angle cuts with the pencil molding to make frame out/border the field tile, and a few straight cuts on the chair rail pieces as an accent under the window. The Builder Depot has all of these extras in a polished or honed finish. I went with honed because our countertops are honed and so is the field tile in the backsplash.

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It sure was a messy process. It took 2 days to set the tile, about 6 hours each day. It took a lot of time to measure and cut each sheet. Please see crazy kitchen chaos below.

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I allowed 24 hours for the tile to set before grouting. Prior to grouting I sealed the tile so there wasn’t any chance that it could be stained by the grout. Sealing is really easy to do, the consistency of the product is water, so I used a soft clean cloth dampened with product and wiped it over the surface of the tile. I made sure to have complete coverage. After drying overnight, I wiped off any haze and was ready to grout. The sealer appears dry within minutes, but the tile guys advised me to wait at least 12 hours.

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I decided to use a grout additive to hasten the setting time. I normally use Grout Boost (pictured below) when grouting tile because it seals the grout in one step. I decided to use the Flexible Grout Admixture for this project because it’s supposed to have really good stain resistance which is important for white grout. It doesn’t seal the grout though, so I will need to do this once the grout is dry.

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I used unsanded whisper grey grout from the Tile Shop.  The grout was mixed in small workable batches. The benefit of using mosaic tile sheets is that you don’t have to set each tile individually, the downside is that there are A LOT of grout lines to fill.

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I have done a lot of tiling, but never a backsplash before. I was surprised at how awkward it was to lean over the counters and apply the grout on a vertical surface. The upper and lower cabinets really restrict how you are able to move around.

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After grouting the marble did darken, only temporarily. It’s because the stone absorbs some of the water in the grout. The grout also looked much darker right after application before it dried. Within 24 hours it has lightened up to it’s final color.

One more post to go! I will reveal the finished caulked and sealed backsplash. I waiting on a sunny day so the pictures will turn out well.

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Kitchen Marble Herringbone Backsplash: Before Installation

June 9, 2014

Kitchen Marble Herringbone Backsplash Part II

We ordered the kitchen backsplash from The Builder Depot. The herringbone marble tile was an exact match for our Carrara marble countertops. Click here for the details on the backsplash selection and sources.

The kitchen was gutted, so we started with a clean slate for the installation.

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The marble countertops were fixed and turned out beautifully!

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I was nervous about the brass faucet being a little over the top, but it really set off the crystal knobs and brass drawer pulls.

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The paint is Revere Pewter by Benjamin Moore.

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We replaced the previous window sill with marble to match the countertops.

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A single sink vs. a double bowl serves us really well. I can fit large pans with ease.

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They did a really good job matching the marble seams, they are almost invisible from this angle.

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During the layout of the kitchen we decided to separate the cooktop from the oven. I am really pleased with the Bosch cooktop we purchased. Cooking with gas allows me so much more control over temperature, and the because the cooktop is inset, it doesn’t break up the marble countertop.

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Eventually we will add a pull out microwave drawer where the little black microwave is now.

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I added a few stools to the island for seating.

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Kitchen Marble Herringbone Backsplash: Product Selection

June 5, 2014

I wanted the kitchen backsplash to be a classic addition to the kitchen renovation, and so, subway tile immediately came to mind. I’ve seen subway tile done over and over again, and while it always looks great I wanted our kitchen to be different. Pinterest is such a great inspiration for, well, anything you could possibly dream up, so I looked there first for subway tile alternatives.

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That’s where I ran across this gorgeous herringbone mosaic tile from The Builder Depot. I liked the smaller format (1×2″) the The Builder Depot offered and the fact that it came in sheets meant it would be a quicker installation. They also offered two different types of marble, Carrara Venato and Bianco, so I was able to pick the one which would match my countertops exactly, AND they have the choice of polished or honed. As you know, our countertops are a honed finish and finding a backsplash in the same finish was difficult – most companies only stock polished marble.

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The website has a little pop-up chat box where you can converse with a real person, which is really nice, and they were able to send me some additional links to close-up pictures of the tile and explain the difference in colors (the amount of grey vs. white, and the amount of veining) so I could pick the best match for my counters. I decided to go with the Bianco because our countertops have lots of grey veining and character. The Venato is more white with much less veining and would be a great match for kitchens with a white, or lighter marble countertops.

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I also picked out a matching marble chair rail and pencil edging to trim out the backsplash and window ledge.

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Everything shipped quickly and arrived within a week of placing my order. So far the renovation has been sticking to my mood board pretty well. Check back for the 2nd post in the series for the backsplash installation.

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This post was sponsored in part by The Builder Depot. All content is original to the author, A Home In College Hill. The opinions and details in this post are were not influenced by the sponsorship and are a true and accurate depiction/ portrayal of the author’s experience with the products discussed.

Bye Bye Mosquito Ladden Wilderness

June 5, 2014

Hi there. I’ve been away from the keyboard for the last several weeks, digging in the dirt and beating our wilderness yard into submission. I really need to post about the kitchen backsplash – which I will be putting up later today – but I wanted to share with all of you what will be happening tomorrow:

The tree is coming down!

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What tree? Oh, just the 32 ft white oak in our front yard that is precariously leaning over the house, and blocks all of the light from the windows making our home a dark cave during the middle of the day. It also breeds a menacing den of mosquitos right outside the front door because the lack of sunlight makes everything damp and shady – just the way the little devils like it.

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I am a tree fan – don’t get me wrong. I live in Ann ARBOR for one, and my neighborhood is called Ives WOODS. You know what though? I do not like having the lights on during the day because the house is so dark, nor do I enjoy all of the itchy mosquito bites that pepper my arms and legs. I also don’t like raking leaves into May because oak trees hold on to their leaves through the winter. Cleaning out the gutters 3 times a years stinks too.

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Despite all of this – the hubs wanted the tree to stay. It wasn’t really an issue in the winter at all, but once it leafed out …well, you can see.

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Lucky for me, the arborist said that it’s dying and needs to come down. It’s hollow/ rotten on the inside and could come down on it’s own.

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The removal happens tomorrow – yippee! We should be able to plant grass and front garden beds with all of the light that will reach the yard once it’s gone.

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Selecting the Kitchen Hardware: Crystal and Brass

April 22, 2014

At this point, I’m pretty sure you all know that I like fancy gold shiny things.

So, it should be no surprise that my love of crystal chandeliers and doorknobs directed my purchases in the kitchen renovation. I had been thinking about adding this detail since I put the kitchen mood board together. The problem is, hardware and lighting made of crystal and brass is expensive!!

I like to have the nicest things I can afford while spending the least amount of money, don’t you? :) Every dollar I save is a dollar I can spend on something else!

There was no luck searching for kitchen hardware on Craigslist where I find a lot of my deals. So I headed to the internet for online stores. Typing “crystal cabinet knobs and pulls” into the Google search bar results in A LOT of hits. Most of the links took me to websites with outrageous prices, and the rest were links to websites with imposter crystal – glass or plastic knobs.

I finally stumbled on PullsDirect.Com (No they are not paying me, but I should have asked them to!), where I found this beauty:

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Now, I actually ordered a few different knobs from PullsDirect to get an idea of what they looked like in person because you never know what you are going to get when you are dealing with the internet. I played around with one of the cabinet doors and the different knobs to see how they would look installed.

These knobs, by Emtek were by far the highest quality, with cut crystal facets, and extreme clarity. They also had a nice weight to them, good reviews, and were 15% off. It pays to look around, because I’m pretty sure they are they exact same knobs that I found on House Of Antique Hardware for $4 more per knob!

 

I decided that I didn’t want to use knobs for all of the cabinet drawers/ doors, so I looked around on the website and found this beautiful solid antique brass pull by Top Knobs:

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I wasn’t completely set on a bar pull, because I also like the look of traditional cup pulls. Emtek also makes a gorgeous solid brass cup pull:

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After ordering all of the samples, I decided to go with the Top Knobs bar pull and the Emtek crystal knobs. Everything shipped right away and arrived well packed. Now that they are installed the really set of the Shenandoah Cherry Bordeaux Cabinets:

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Uh oh, I think you may have seen a sneak peek of the kitchen backsplash above. It’s the reason I haven’t posted in a few weeks – I was busy installing all of that marble tile! 

I will be posting about the installation soon. I’m excited to share it with everyone.

Happy Spring!

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Kitchen: Progress

March 28, 2014

I finally updated the ‘kitchen’ page. Click on the navigation bar above and select kitchen to take a look at all of the progress we have made so far and some scary before photos.

Coming on up the blog:

  • Kitchen hardware
  • Counter installation part 2
  • Backsplash inspiration
  • Backsplash installed ( hopefully in the next two weeks!)

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